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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Scenes from Alan Grayson's campaign bus chronicle the firebrand would-be senator's downfall

Posted By on Thu, Sep 1, 2016 at 2:15 PM

Page 3 of 5

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Many Democrats who have worked with Grayson, even those who agree with his political positions, can’t stand him. Supporters have found him to be an increasingly problematic progressive. An Aug. 4 column on the liberal web site Daily Kos, citing the abuse charges, carries the headline, “I side with Alan Grayson on policy issues, but he will never have my vote.” Even former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, an outspoken progressive who once came to Orlando to raise money for Grayson’s congressional reelection campaign, threw his support to Patrick Murphy. So when the abuse revelations came, Grayson had almost no one willing to come to his aid, apart from his lawyer, Mark Nejame.

Naturally, in the current atmosphere, any defense in the face of multiple accusations of domestic abuse is bound to appear suspect and self-serving. Nonetheless, Grayson offered to provide to reporters at Dontee’s restaurant a 30-page brief detailing and refuting the charges he submitted to the Florida Department of Children and Families, which has taken no action against him. Three of his children have chosen to live with him, he points out, and he has filed for custody of the other two. In his account, Lolita Grayson’s mental instability makes Mary Todd Lincoln look like Betty Crocker.

His ex-wife, Grayson says, has also made abuse complaints against three of his children. He once came home to find his oldest daughter being handcuffed by police. His wife, he says, slashed the interior of one of the family cars with a knife, and torched a neighbor’s vehicle. Grayson has charged that his wife struck him repeatedly, and recounted the incident in Orlando in March 2015. On that occasion, his wife accused him of abuse, but a cell phone video revealed that in fact his wife struck him several times. “She lied,” he repeats. “We are the victims of the abuse.”

As the restaurant interview trails off, Grayson is able to order and quickly put away a hefty lunch of eggs, hash browns and bacon, wrapping up two buttered English muffins in a napkin as he boards the bus. Like many campaigns, Grayson’s forays have an improvised, ad hoc feel to them, as if they are being planned the day before, if not on the fly. In this case, however, that is literally true, and no mistake, according to Brook Hines, a campaign spokesperson. “We are not sending all the details of the routes, because we’ve got ‘trackers’ who’d like to follow us,” she tells Politico. The concern, she says, is that these trackers from other campaigns will show up to record or disrupt the events, although trackers are now standard practice in hotly contested races.

The Grayson campaign forays tend to be day trips, originating in Orlando. On weekends, he attends African-American churches and touring troubled public housing complexes in Jacksonville and Tampa, or participating in Black Lives Matter demonstrations. He calls a Zika town forum in Miami Gardens on Aug. 6, in another effort to change the subject from the abuse charges. At the meeting Grayson charges that “Gov. Rick Scott, in his fervor to cut public programs to provide tax cuts for business, gutted funding that supported mosquito research and control in Florida, leaving us unarmed as we now face a life-and-death public health emergency.” In the past, Grayson has made another, more typically pithy charge, aimed at Republican members of Congress (including Marco Rubio) who have failed to increase funding to fight the virus. The GOP’s plan for mosquito-borne Zika, Grayson says, amounts to this: “Don’t get bit,” echoing his original, image-making jibe on the floor of the House.

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The timing of the domestic abuse story, and another several days later in which Lolita Grayson charged that her former husband had been unfaithful during their marriage, is worth a closer look. With the marriage dissolution long settled, what motive – apart from the usual in such breakups, vindictiveness and revenge – would Lolita Grayson have for contacting Politico at the convention?

Otherwise, with its anti-establishment zeitgeist, 2016 could have been Alan Grayson’s year. If Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had a brilliant, political love child – albeit one with no impulse control – it would be Grayson. His long-held policy positions, like strong and consistent support for the LGBT community, are nearly identical to the two progressive U.S. Senators, both of whom have the advantage of representing far more liberal states than Florida. Grayson backs universal health care, including a Medicare buy-in for people 55 and over; free public college tuition; and he opposes U.S. military intervention abroad, and the militarization of police departments at home. He is remembered by his Congressional constituents for launching an effective legal crusade to save Florida residents from mortgage foreclosure in the wake of the housing crisis.

Hours before the abuse story breaks at the Philadelphia convention, I am interviewing pollsters, consultants and political scientists in Orlando. The emerging consensus is that Grayson has a strong shot to win the Democratic nomination, benefiting from what appeared to be the year’s insurgent wave. Late-summer primaries like Florida’s, especially those with no major state races, are lucky to generate a 20 percent turnout. That means they are essentially base contests, and thus dependent on the complex calculus of who shows up to vote. Such primaries are so volatile and unpredictable that some polling organizations avoid them.

click to enlarge PHOTO VIA ALAN GRAYSON'S FACEBOOK
  • Photo via Alan Grayson's Facebook
The experts I speak with say Grayson has a legitimate crack at the nomination, given his strength among seniors, African-Americans, Hispanics, working- and lower-middle-class voters of all races, the LGBT community, union members and idealistic young people in the state who supported Sanders. After all, this is the same coalition that carried Grayson to victory in Central Florida Congressional races in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Symbolically, the Park Lake house that used to be Sanders’ Orlando headquarters becomes Grayson’s, the nerve center for mobilizing his supporters, a dozen of whom gather on a Tuesday evening to make phone calls on his behalf.

At least until the abuse story breaks, Grayson is able to hold his own in the face of near-unanimous opposition of the national Democratic Party’s Beltway establishment.

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